“Family Birthdays,” Jan. 22, 2019

There was a time in my life when I knew the birthdays of everyone in my family. Unlike my grandmother — who had 12 children and 22 grandchildren and could barely remember their names, let alone their birthdays — my immediate family was fairly small: My mother, my dad, my stepdad, my sister, two brothers and me.

Remembering their birthdays was a piece of cake. Literally. We couldn’t afford gifts (we could barely afford shoes) but my mother would bake a cake and we’d eat it together and no one seemed to miss the gifts.

That was then. This is now. Families are forever changing with marriages, divorces, births and deaths, divisions and reconciliations. The question at family dinners is often not what to eat, but who will show up?

My sister and I and our brother, Joe, are all that’s left of the family we grew up in. But we remember those we’ve lost, especially on their birthdays. We phone each other to tell stories about them and talk about how they are missed.

A good story is a gift for all who share it — the teller, the listeners and the one it recalls.

My second family included me, my first husband, our three children and a dog. I never forgot their birthdays. Not even the dog’s. My daughter wouldn’t let me forget. By the age of 4, she knew all the birth dates and planned the celebrations. Every family needs a party planner. She was mine, then and now.

My children were barely grown when we lost their dad to cancer. We were always close, but death has a way of drawing families closer. My kids fussed over me like birds when one of the flock is injured. They prayed for me, made me eat and sleep and phone to “check in.” Things I used to do for them.

Three weeks after their dad died, my daughter told me to pack a bag because she and her younger brother were taking me to L.A. to see their older brother and celebrate my birthday.

I wish you could’ve heard us.

We laughed and cried and told bittersweet stories. It was one of the saddest/happiest birthdays of my life. I never felt more loved or blessed to be alive.

Years later, I remarried and gained not just a husband, but two stepsons. Then came a flurry of weddings and births. Now our “blended” family includes my husband, me, five children, four of their spouses and six grandchildren with (yes!) two more on the way.

If my math is correct (if it’s not, you’ll tell me) it adds up to 17 family birthdays. So far.

That’s a lot of dates to recall. Especially for a woman who was scatterbrained long before she could blame it on age.

Eleven of those 17 birthdays take place from the end of December to mid-February.

That’s a lot of birthday cake. Not to mention a lot of gifts. But families get together for all sorts of reasons: Sunday dinners, holidays, weddings, baby showers, anniversaries and, too often, for funerals. What better reason to celebrate than the birthday of someone we love?

Eleanor is next. She’ll turn 4 this week. We’ll sing “Happy Birthday.” She’ll blow out her candles and open her gifts. I’ll tell her a story about the day she was born and how happy she made her whole family.

I will say to her the words I like to say to friends and loved ones on their birthdays: “I am so glad you were born.”

We’ll eat cake. Then, in the next three weeks, we’ll celebrate seven more family birthdays.

Mine will be last. I’d like to spend it surrounded by family and stories and laughter. No gifts, but maybe a little cake.

That’s a lot of happiness. It’s the best gift I could hope for.

Cards are always nice, too, of course. But you certainly don’t need to send me one.

Unless you really want to.



  1. Hi Sharon,
    I want you to know that we enjoyed your reading, as usual. We went to see you and glad we could talk to you a bit. We even got to talk to Nate. We were at the PG reading.

  2. Lost my Dad last week and I will be turning 60 on the 30th. The hole in my heart has been bitter sweet as he no longer is suffering, but I will miss his bday cioppino he always made for me. He got to celebrate 95 big ones, he would say ” If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!” Celebrations are important as I will be with grandkids on my 60th to get hugs and kisses to help with the sorrow. We are all intertwined like pieces of fabric stitched together for the long haul. Happy-go-lucky to you Sharon, God Bless you 🙂

  3. Kate Sciacca says

    Eleanor is four???? How can this possibly be??? You wrote about her birth just a couple months ago… I’m certain of it 😀

    And you will be …. what… 39? Ok…. maybe 45. Yes, 45 – that’s a fine age 😉

    I’m quite proud to say that I recall all 27 birthdays in the immediate family, and it has NOTHING to do with that special calendar my sweet red-headed DIL makes for me every year…. nothing at all to do with that.

  4. Bib Dickson says

    My wife and I blended our families nearly 30 years ago, and several years later, we started calling our children, their spouses, our grandchildren, their girl friends, and an unfortunate collection of our friends on their birthday. They are then treated to our incomparable duet of Happy Birthday, which I end by crooning “Boo boobie doooo”. We call them even if we happen to be in the same building with them. It’s become a family tradition that we all enjoy and we use it to let our kith and kin know that we are thinking of them and love them.

  5. Betty McNall says

    Birthdays are and always have been celebrated in my family! I don’t remember the gifts when I was little, but my cake was everything! I wanted and got 2 Angelfood cskes! It took 13 eggs back then( I was born in 1940) so my cakes, one from my Mom and another from my Grandmother were everything to me! Now is really special as my husband and I share the same BD( he is 6yrs older!) Then in 1965 our first daughter was born on our BD! We now have a Grandson who’s favorite cake is Angelfood! So since he lives close i make his cake! We have 4 children, and 7 Grandchildren! We are spread out but get together when possible but always a phone call as well as the kids call one another. Yes Birthdays will always have a special place in the McNalls lives!

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